Preview: PDC World Championship first round

Sports Mole previews the first round of the PDC World Championship, which begins on Friday night at Alexandra Palace.

The 21st staging of the PDC World Championship gets underway on Friday night as the world's best players come together at Alexandra Palace.

Trophy holder Phil Taylor will be attempting to become a 17-time world champion, but the 53-year-old is expected to be tested by fast-throwing duo Michael van Gerwen and Adrian Lewis.

Below, Sports Mole takes a look at the opening round of the tournament, which will feature 64 players competing to remain in the event.

The top three seeds

Phil Taylor of Britain reacts as he takes part in the PDC World Championship darts final against Michael van Gerwen of the Netherlands on January 1, 2013© Getty Images
1. Phil Taylor vs. Rob Szabo/Ian Moss

Taylor has been handed a favourable opening match in the tournament as he looks to recover from his defeat in the Players Championship Finals to Van Gerwen.

The reigning champion will face either New Zealand thrower Rob Szabo or Englishman Ian Moss, who must first compete in a best-of-seven preliminary match to determine who will face the Stoke-on-Trent thrower.

Szabo will be making his debut at Alexandra Palace, while Moss qualified for the tournament after finishing runner-up in the World Championship qualifying event at the end of November.

Michael van Gerwen of the Netherlands in action during his quarter-final match Clinton Bridge of Australia against during day two of the Sydney Darts Masters on August 30, 2013© Getty Images
2. Michael van Gerwen vs. Zoran Lerchbacher/Ben Ward

Like Taylor, Van Gerwen has also been paired with one of the preliminary round winners as he looks to continue his destructive form from Minehead two weeks ago.

The world number two should have an easy time of it against either opponent, with Lerchbacher only featuring in the main stages of one PDC Pro Tour event throughout 2013.

Ward is forging a growing reputation for himself with his performances on the PDC Challenge Tour, but while he could oust Lerchbacher, he is unlikely to trouble Van Gerwen.

Adrian Lewis of England celebrates winning a set during the quarter final match between Adrian Lewis of England and Michael Van Gerwen of Netherlands on December 29, 2012© Getty Images
3. Adrian Lewis vs. Dennis Smith

Lewis arrives at the Alexandra Palace in superb form, but 'Jackpot' has history of being a slow starter at the World Championship.

Nigel Heydon and Gino Vos have caused him problems in his past two matches in the last 64, and Dennis Smith could capitalise if the two-time world champion doesn't find his feet in this first-round contest.

However, the 28-year-old is continuing to grow in maturity, and while he won't have it all his own way against Smith, Lewis should run out a 3-0 or 3-1 victor.

Three potential upsets

Paul Nicholson of England in action during his second round match on day eight of the 2013 World Darts Championship at the Alexandra Palace on December 21, 2012© Getty Images
1. Paul Nicholson vs. Stuart Kellett

Before the draw was made, Stuart Kellett was the name that everyone was looking to avoid after the 32-year-old's rise up the PDC Order of Merit in 2013.

The former World Masters runner-up has featured frequently in the television tournaments this year, and Paul Nicholson will be aware that he will have to be at his best to progress through to the second round.

The 20th seed got the better of Kellett at the Grand Slam of Darts, but this encounter has the potential to go five sets on Saturday evening.

James Wade of England looks dejected during his semi final match against Michael van Gerwen of the Netherlands on day fourteen of the 2013 World Darts Championship at the Alexandra Palace on December 30, 2012© Getty Images
2. James Wade vs. Darren Webster

Over the past couple of months, we have seen the best and worst of James Wade. The left-hander has proven that he can frequently compete with the top players in the world, but on occasions, he has struggled to find his rhythm.

He averaged just 74 against Taylor at The Masters in November, but he responded with impressive averages in the Grand Slam of Darts and Players Championship Finals.

Darren Webster is a previous quarter-finalist at the World Championship, and he has also performed well on the PDC Pro Tour over the past two months. If Wade doesn't bring his 'A' game to his opening match, he could be troubled by the 45-year-old.

Gary Anderson of Scotland celebrates his win during his second round match on day eight of the 2013 World Darts Championship at the Alexandra Palace on December 21, 2012© Getty Images
3. Gary Anderson vs. Mark Dudbridge

The match between these two former World Championship runners-up has the potential to be the match of the round, and it wouldn't come as a huge surprise if Mark Dudbridge progressed.

Anderson has displayed some of his best form over the past six weeks, but Dudbridge has shown flashes of brilliance recently to secure a place in this tournament.

The outcome of this match will likely be decided on Anderson's performance on the doubles, but if he is a fraction off, Dudbridge will step in to progress through to the next round.

Other selected ties

As well as the three highlight matches, the first-round draw has thrown together many 50-50 encounters, with an array of seeded players in danger of exiting the tournament at the first hurdle.

Big names are guaranteed to fall with Richie Burnett facing Dean Winstanley and Jamie Caven playing Jelle Klaasen, but many eyes will be on the battle of the Belgian brothers when Kim Huybrechts meets older sibling Ronny in the last 64.

Kim won a one-sided affair at the Grand Slam of Darts, but Ronny will be keen to get his revenge on his World Championship debut.

Dave Chisnall, Peter Wright, Justin Pipe and Mervyn King will also have to play well to make the second round of the competition.

Kim Huybrechts of Belgium celebrates beating Paul Nicholson of England during Day 12 of the 2012 World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace on December 29, 2011
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